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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 14, 2014

Top of the Agenda

Russia Holds War Games As Crimea Vote Looms

Russia launched new military exercises near its border with Ukraine on Thursday as Russian-occupied Crimea prepares for a referendum on independence and potential annexation by Russia on Sunday (AP). Western powers have warned Moscow of the costs to its actions in Crimea: German chancellor Angela Merkel said there will be "massive" consequences, and Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in London to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, is expected to make clear that Russian military intervention in Crimea could trigger U.S. and EU sanctions (BBC). The United States circulated a draft resolution on Thursday at the UN Security Council that declared Sunday's referendum illegal, a move which Russia said it would veto (Reuters).


"One can hope that the threat of sanctions could lead to a de-escalation and negotiation, but it looks increasingly likely at this point that we will head to stage two. Sanctions look set to intensify should Russia annex Crimea after this weekend's referendum. Given Russia's apparent intent in maintaining control over Crimea, they may have to remain in place for a while. Other measures outside sanctions to punish Russia may also be floated. In this scenario, the creation of 'off-ramps' becomes all the more important," writes CFR Senior Fellow Robert Kahn.

"Mr. Putin's view is understandable. Because there is no world government to protect states from one another, major powers are acutely sensitive to threats—especially near their borders—and they sometimes act ruthlessly to address potential dangers. International law and human rights concerns take a back seat when vital security issues are at stake," writes John J. Mearsheimer in the New York Times.

"The west's focus should be on Kiev as much as Moscow—on supplying the massive economic and political aid needed if Ukrainian politicians are to lay the foundations of sustainable democracy and economic revival. This will be neither cheap nor easy. I once heard a Russian oligarch complain that he could not do business in Ukraine because it was 'too corrupt.' There are no guarantees of success," writes Philip Stephens in the Financial Times.


Pacific Rim

Foreign Journalists in China Play by Beijing Rules

Foreign journalists working in China participated in months of negotiations with China's Foreign Ministry for the right to ask the country's premier, Li Keqiang, questions at his annual press conference earlier this week (NYT).

This CFR Backgrounder explains media censorship in China.

SINGAPORE: The Monetary Authority of Singapore said it will regulate Bitcoin exchanges to prevent the virtual currency from being used for money laundering and terrorist financing (AFP).


South and Central Asia

Taliban Splinter Groups Add to Afghan Election Fears

Hardcore Taliban splinter groups, such as Feday-e Mahaz, Mullah Dadullah Front, and other factions have raised concerns over security ahead of Afghanistan's April presidential election (RFERL). Feday-e Mahaz claimed responsibility for killing a foreign journalist this week.

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and resiliency of the Taliban.

PAKISTAN: Saudi Arabia loaned Pakistan $1.5 billion last month to help Islamabad bail out the rupee, meet debt obligations, and pay for energy and infrastructure projects (Express Tribune).


Middle East

Israel and Gaza Militants Exchange Strikes

Several rockets fired by Gaza militants hit Israeli soil on Thursday, and Israel retaliated with air strikes despite Palestinian claims that a 2012 cease-fire had been restored (BBC).

JORDAN: The shooting death of a Jordanian judge by Israeli border guards earlier this week has strained relations between the countries as the United States attempts to broker a peace deal (WaPo).



Sudan Rebel Leaders Condemned to Death

Two leaders of a main rebel alliance in Sudan—Malik Agar, a former state governor, and Yassir Arman, who challenged Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir in 2010 elections—were sentenced to death in absentia along with fifteen members of their group (Reuters).

SOUTH AFRICA: Julius Malema, a young and controversial South African politician, is stirring up the political scene ahead of May elections by floating plans to expropriate land from white farmers and nationalize banks (FT).



Draghi Says Strong Euro Has Lowered Inflation

European central bank president Mario Draghi said a strong euro is pulling down inflation in the eurozone, which is raising concerns over the bloc's fragile economic recovery (WSJ).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the eurozone crisis.



Venezuela Accused of Owing Airlines $3.7 Billion

As President Nicholás Maduro faces antigovernment protests, international airlines have accused Venezuela of withholding $3.7 billion in payments and violating treaties, in a sign of deepening economic problems for South America's biggest oil producer (LATimes).

UNITED STATES: Economists at the International Monetary Fund said governments should use tools such as higher property taxes to shrink widening income gaps in many advanced and fast-growing economies (Bloomberg).



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